The national-religious candidate for the position of Jerusalem’s chief rabbi
warned against a reality in which the capital becomes a city for religious Jews
only, and called for more tolerance – from both secular and religious residents
– to prevent such a scenario.
“It must be a capital for all the people, a
united city,” Rabbi Aryeh Stern said on Wednesday.
Stern, who heads the
Halacha Brura and Birur Halacha Institute, is the rabbi of the Har Horev
community synagogue in the Katamon neighborhood and teaches at various yeshivas,
noted the special sanctity of the city marking its 44th year of
“When you are in Jerusalem, you don’t just look at Jerusalem
– you look at the entire country. I hope a degree of holiness will
emanate from here,” he said.
The rabbi was decisive in his answer when
asked if the Holy City, becoming more and more religious, can bear to lose its
“Absolutely not,” he said.
“We must do
what we can to prevent that.”
“The correct thing to do is to live in
mixed areas of secular and religious residents rather than separate
neighborhoods,” he continued.
“Not everybody agrees with me. But I see
great importance to it. We cannot make it a city for religious people only,
where secular people won’t feel at home.”
To keep secular residents in
town, “what is needed is tolerance, and mutual concessions. Secular
people should make concessions, but so should religious people. I am not happy
when I see my neighbor driving on Shabbat, that goes without saying, it is even
difficult for me to greet him when I see him like that, but he knows how I feel
about it,” Stern said.
“One cannot accept the city becoming one for
religious people only; it must be a capital for all the people, a united city” –
with the Hebrew word for that unification, “huvra,” stemming from the word for
friendship, “haverut” – “where everyone should be friends and belong. Jerusalem
was not divided among the tribes, since it doesn’t belong to anyone – it is
completeness, and should bond and unite everyone. The mayor is making great
efforts to that end; he rightly considers it one of his central missions, and is
reaching achievements,” Stern said.
“Jerusalem must not become a
sectorial city; it cannot happen. Careful and wise tolerance must be
To Stern, the Israel Museum – which has been open on
Saturdays for many years and can be entered using tickets bought in advance – is
a good example of a way the capital can retain its cultural appeal, even on
“There is cultural activity that does not necessarily entail
desecrating Shabbat,” he said.
“It is hard for me to accept a public
body, that represents all of us, desecrating Shabbat. But on the other hand,
there are other options.”
Jerusalem has had no chief rabbi since 2002.
The process to elect rabbis for the city was recently relaunched. In Jerusalem,
the rabbis are elected by a body composed of 48 people – 24 representatives of
synagogues, 18 from the city council and another six who represent the religious
As a lesson from past failures to agree on a candidate
and lose campaigns to the haredi sector, three senior national-religious rabbis –
Haim Druckman, Yaakov Ariel and Aharon Lichtenstein – were chosen to select a
The three appointed a committee of 30 men, who in August 2009
selected Stern as the one and only national-religious contender for the position
of Jerusalem’s chief rabbi.
If he were elected as one of the city’s chief
rabbis, without diminishing the importance of the city’s religious services such
as kashrut supervision, Stern has a broader vision for the role of the capital’s
“My vision is to create cooperation and joint activities for all
sectors in the city – secular, religious, haredi. To create projects that would
promote good ties, to hold unifying activities. I hope that my rabbinic standing
would help create common grounds with the haredi public,” he said.
secular and nationalreligious communities need a rabbi who is a public leader,”
“There are many questions that pertain to the ongoing
communal conduct, such as whether lectures on temporal topics can be given in
I have a vision to create a forum of community rabbis (the
haredim have less of a need for such an assembly) composed of dozens of rabbis
with whom I am in contact. The forum would be permanent, and determine
guidelines and rules that could be common to all the communities. The problems
that arise in Givat Ze’ev are no different than those in Givat Masu’a,” he said,
noting geographically distant parts of the capital.
“This will be an
opportunity to speak together as rabbis, public figures, synagogue managers. I
think it would be like cool water to a tired soul.”